Blackjack and ADHD

My mornings feel like I’m playing blackjack. A few months back, I had a bit of a health scare (elevated blood sugar levels), and since finding good low-carb food in/around office is a challenge, after that I’ve been taking my own lunch box.

It’s a fairly elaborate lunch, which one colleague calls as “looking rather European”. It started with grilled paneer and grilled vegetables, but has now grown to a massive glass Ikea box with grilled paneer, boiled eggs, grilled vegetables (some pre-blanched / steamed before grilling), roasted and crushed nuts and (of late) kimchi.

And despite my cook occasionally helping me out with some mise-en-place, there are a lot of things to do every morning. Some of the processes involved are:

  • keeping water for boiling, for eggs
  • putting eggs carefully into the boiling water (without breaking), and setting a timer for 7 minutes. If I’m not wearing my Apple Watch, I need to also run around to find my phone
  • Putting water in the steamer for steaming vegetables
  • Putting the hard veggies (carrot, beans, broccoli) into the steamer and closing the pot.
  • Taking out the veggies from the steamer before they are too soggy
  • Slicing paneer
  • Grilling paneer on the frying pan with salt and pepper and olive oil
  • Grilling veggies on the frying pan with salt and pepper and olive oil (including the steamed veggies)
  • Pre-heating the air fryer
  • Adding almonds into the air fryer; shaking the fryer once in the middle, transferring almonds to the pestle and mortar
  • Putting cashews into the air fryer
  • Taking out cashews when they have just browned and putting into the pestle and mortar
  • Putting eggs in cold water after seven minutes are up
  • Peeling and slicing eggs, and seasoning with salt and pepper
  • Crushing cashews and almonds and adding them to grilled vegetables

I don’t think I’ve ever timed myself. However, pretty much every morning I get into a frenzy trying to finish all of this, and then take my daughter to school on time. Maybe some days I take twenty minutes. Maybe I take thirty. I don’t even know. Life is such a blur.

As you can imagine, the above process can be heavily parallelised. And while my menu is standardised, the process is not. Which means I’m trying to both experiment and measure at the same time. While cooking four different processes at exactly the same time.

Sometimes, life feels like playing blackjack. You would have flipped the paneer over in the frying pan maybe for one last time. And then you think “I can peel this egg before the paneer is done”. Before you know it the paneer is black. You are not wearing your watch, so you go in search of the phone – to put the timer for the egg. In that time the veggies are burnt.

I don’t even know why I sometimes put myself through this. Maybe this is yet another tradeoff between physical and mental health. For now, physical seems to be winning.

Maybe a sustainable long term strategy is to forego lunch as well (nowadays I don’t eat breakfast unless I’ve gone to the gym in the morning), and transition to an “OMAD” (one meal a day) lifestyle.  Or maybe I should find myself some nice lunch I can take to office which doesn’t involve so many parallel steps.

Until I figure something out, I’ll continue running in the mornings.

Eating Alone

In the last 2 weeks, about 4 times I had lunch in my office cafeteria. After a small health scare in early October (high HbA1c), I carry my own (self-made) lunch to office every day now (since I can’t reliably find low carb food around). On these days, I took my lunch to the cafeteria and ate along with colleagues, some of whom had brought there own lunches and others bought from the on-site caterer.

This, to me, however, is highly unusual behaviour. First of all, taking lunch to office is highly unusual – something that till recently I considered an “uncle thing to do”. Of course, now that I’m 40, doing “uncle things” is par for the course.

More importantly, eating lunch in the cafeteria is even more unusual behaviour for me. And in the last couple of days, most days I’ve sat there because a colleague who sits near me and brings lunch as well has called me on his way to the cafeteria.

A long time ago, an old friend had recommended to me this book called “never eat alone“. I remember reading it, but don’t remember anything of its contents (and its average goodreads rating of 3.8 suggests my opinion is not isolated). From what I remember, it was about networking and things like that.

However, as far as I am concerned, especially when it comes to lunch on a working day, I actually prefer to eat alone (whether it is at my desk or at a nearby restaurant). Maybe it is because my first “job” (it was actually an internship, but not my first ever internship) was in London, on a trading floor of an investment bank.

On trading floors, lunch at desk is the done thing. In fact, I remember being told off once or twice in my internship for taking too long a lunch break. “You can take your long break after trading hours. For lunch, though, you just go, grab and come and eat at the desk”, I had been told. And despite never again working in an environment like that (barring 4-5 weeks in New York in 2010-11), this habit has struck with me for life.

There are several reasons why I like to eat alone, either at a restaurant or at my desk. Most importantly, there is a time zone mismatch – on most days I either don’t eat breakfast, or would have gone to the gym in the morning. Either ways, by 12-1230, I’m famished and hungry. Most others in India eat lunch only beyond 1.

Then, there is the coordination problem. Yes, if everyone gets lunchboxes (or is okay to but at the cafeteria) and goes to the cafeteria, then it is fine. Else you simply can’t agree on where to go and some of you end up compromising. And a suboptimal lunch means highly suboptimal second half of the day.

Then, there is control over one’s time. Sometimes you can get stuck in long conversations, or hurry up because the other person has an impending meeting. In either case, you can’t enjoy your lunch.

Finally, when you have been having a hectic work day, you want to chill out and relax and do your own thing. It helps to just introspect, and be in control of your own mind and thoughts and distractions while you are eating, rather than losing control of your stimulations to someone else.

Of course it can work the other day as well – cafeteria lunches can mean the possibility of random catchups and gossip and “chit chat” (one reason I’ve done a few of those in the last few weeks), but in the balance, it’s good to have control over your own schedule.

So I don’t really get the point of why people think it’s a shame to eat alone, or thing something is wrong with you if you’re eating alone. I know of people who have foregone meals only because they couldn’t find anyone to go eat with. And I simply don’t understand any of this!

CGM Notes

At about 5:30 pm last Wednesday, I chanced upon a box of Sandesh crumbs lying in the office. A colleague had brought the sweets to share the previous day, and people had devoured it; but left aside the crumbs. I picked up the box and proceeded to demolish it as I reviewed a teammate’s work.

Soon the box was in the dustbin. I chanced upon a cookie box that another colleague had got. And started to demolish the cookies. This was highly atypical behaviour for me, since I’m trying to follow a low-carb diet. At the moment, I assumed it was because I was stressed that day.

Presently, I took out my phone to log this “meal” in the Ultrahuman app. There the reason for my binge was clearly visible – my blood sugar had gone down to 68 mg / dL, pretty much my lowest low in the 2 weeks I wore the last sensor.

This, I realised, was a consequence of the day’s lunch, at Sodabottleopenerwala. Maybe it was the batter (or more likely, the sauce) of the fried chicken wings. Or the batter of the onion pakoda. Something I had eaten that afternoon had spiked my blood sugar high enough to trigger a massive insulin response. And that insulin, having acted upon my lunch, had acted upon the rest of the sugars in my blood. Sending it really low. To a point where I was gorging on whatever sweets I could find.

About a year (or maybe two?) back, I had read Jason Fung’s The Obesity Code, which had talked about insulin being the hormone responsible for weight gain. High levels of insulin in the blood means you feel hungrier and you gorge more, or something like that the argument went. The answer was to not keep triggering insulin release in the blood – for that would make the body “insulin resistant” (so you need more insulin than usual to take care of a particular amount of blood sugar). Which can lead to Type 2 diabetes, high triglycerides, weight gain, etc.

And so Fung’s recommendations (paraphrasing – you should see my full blogpost based on the book ) included fasting, and eating fewer carbs. Here I was, two years later, finding evidence of the concepts in my CGM data.

I have worn a CGM a couple of times before. Those were primarily to figure out my body’s response to different kinds of foods, and find out what I should eat to maintain a healthy blood sugar level. The insights had been fairly clear. However, since it had been ten months since I last wore a CGM, I had forgotten some of the insights. I was “cheating” (eating what I wasn’t supposed to eat) too much. And my blood sugar had started going up to scary levels.

The objective of this round of the CGM was to find out “high ROI foods”. Foods that gave me a lot of “satisfaction” while not triggering much of a blood glucose response. The specific hypothesis I was trying to test was that sweets and traditional south indian lunch trigger my blood sugar in the same manner, so I might as well have dessert instead of traditional south indian lunches!

Two weeks of this CGM and I rejected this hypothesis. I had sweets enough number of times (kalakand, sandesh, corner house cake fudge, etc) to notice that the glucose response was not scary at all. The problem, each time, however, occurred later – maybe the “density of sugars” in the sweets triggered off too much of an insulin response, leading to a glucose crash (and low glucose levels at the end of it).

Traditional south indian lunch (I would start with the vegetables before I moved on to rice with sambar and then rice with curd) was something I tested multiple times. And it’s not funny how much the response varied – a couple of times, my blood glucose went up very high (160 etc.). A couple of times there was a minimal impact on my blood glucose. It was all over the place. That said, given the ease of preparation, it is something I’m not cutting out.

What I’m cutting out is pretty much anything that involves “pulverised grains”. Those just don’t work for me. Two times I had dosa – once it sent my blood sugar beyond 200, once beyond 180. One idli with vade sent my blood sugar from 80 to 140 (on the other hand, khara bath (uppit) with vaDe only sent it to 120). Paneer paratha (on the streets of Gurgaon) sent my sugar up to 200.

That some flours work for me I had established in previous iterations wearing the CGM – rice rotti hadn’t worked, jowar rotti hadn’t worked, ragi mudde had been especially bad. But that dose and idli and paratha also don’t work for me was an interesting observation this time. I guess I’ll be eating much less of these.

What did work for me was what has sort of become my usual meals when going out of late – avoiding carbs. One Wednesday, I got my team to order me an entire Paneer Butter Masala for lunch (Gurgaon again). Minimal change in glucose levels. That Friday, I had butter chicken (only; no bread or rice with it). Minimal change yet again! Omelettes simply don’t register on my blood sugar levels (even with generous amounts of cheese).

To summarise,

  • Sweets may not send my sugar very high, but in due course they send it very low (due to high insulin response). The only time this crash doesn’t happen is if I’ve had the sweets at the end of a meal. Basically, avoid.
  • Any kinds of pulverised grains (dosa, idli, rotti, paratha) is not good for me. Avoid again
  • The same food can have very different response at different times. This could be due to the pre-existing levels of insulin in the body. So any data analysis (I plan to do it) needs to be done very carefully
  • On a couple of occasions I found artificial sweeteners (like those in my whey protein) causing a glucose crash – maybe they get the body to release insulin despite not having sugars. Avoid again.
  • Again last week I met a friend for dinner and we had humongous amounts of seafood. I didn’t eat carbs with it. Minimal spike.
  • Some foods cause an immediate spike. Some cause a delayed spike. Some cause a crash.
  • Crashes in glucose levels (usually 1-2 hours after a massively insulin-triggering meal) were massively correlated with me feeling low and jittery and unable to focus. It didn’t matter how recently I had taken the last dose of my ADHD medication – glucose crash meant I was unable to focus.
  • Milk is not as good for me as I thought. It does produce a spike (and crash), especially when I’m drinking on an empty stomach
  • Speaking of drinking, minimal impact from alcohols such as whiskey or wine. I didn’t test beer (I know it’s not good)
  • Biryani (Nagarjuna) wasn’t so bad – again it was important I ate very little rice and lots of chicken (ordered sides)
  • Just omelette is great. Omelette with a slice of toast not so.

All these notes are for myself. Any benefit you get from this is only a bonus.

Alcohol and sleep

A few months back we’d seen this documentary on Netflix (I THINK) on the effects of alcohol on health. Like you would expect from a well-made documentary (rather than a polemic), the results were inconclusive. There were a few mildly positive effects, some negative effects, some indicators on how alcohol can harm your health, etc.

However, the one thing I remember from that documentary is about alcohol’s effect on sleep – that drinking makes you sleep worse (contrary to popular imagination where you can easily pass out if you drink a lot). And I have now managed to validate that for myself using data.

The more perceptive of you might know that I log my life. I have a spreadsheet where every day I record some vital statistics (sleep and meal times, anxiety, quality of work, etc. etc.). For the last three months I’ve also had an Apple Watch, which makes its own recordings of its vital statistics.

Until this morning these two data sets had been disjoint – until I noticed an interesting pattern in my average sleeping heart rate. And then I decided to join them and do some analysis. A time series to start:

Notice the three big spikes in recent times. And they only seem to be getting higher (I’ll come to that in a bit).

And then sometimes a time series doesn’t do justice to patterns – absent the three recent big spikes it’s hard to see from this graph if alcohol has an impact on sleep heart rate. This is where a boxplot can help.

The difference is evident here – when I have alcohol, my heart rate during sleep is much higher, which means I don’t rest as well.

That said, like everything else in the world, it is not binary. Go back to the time series and see – I’ve had alcohol fairly often in this time period but my heart rate hasn’t spiked as much on all days. This is where quantity of alcohol comes in.

Most days when I drink, it’s largely by myself at home. A glass or two of either single malt or wine. And the impact on sleep is only marginal. So far so good.

On 26th, a few colleagues had come home. We all drank Talisker. I had far more than I normally have. And so my heart rate spiked (79). And then on June 1st, I took my team out to Arbor. Pretty much for the first time in 2022 I was drinking beer. I drank a fair bit. 84.

And then on Saturday I went for a colleague’s birthday party. There were only cocktails. I drank lots of rum and coke (I almost never drink rum). 89.

My usual drinking, if you see, doesn’t impact my health that much. But big drinking is big problem, especially if it’s a kind of alcohol I don’t normally drink.

Now, in the interest of experimentation, one of these days I need to have lots of wine and see how I sleep!

PS: FWIW Sleeping heart rate is uncorrelated with how much coffee I have

PS2: Another time I wrote about alcohol

PS3: Maybe in my daily log I need to convert the alcohol column from binary to numeric (and record the number of units of alcohol I drink)

 

Chaupat Raja Cooking

While cooking my dinner this evening, I had a realisation, and not a pleasant one. I realised that the way I cook can sometimes be described as “chaupat raja” model of cooking.

The story goes that there was a town called “andher nagari” (dark town), which was ruled by a “chaupat raja”. The raja had fixed the price of all commodities at “1 taka” (not sure if it’s the same as the Bangladeshi currency).

So if you bought onions, you would pay 1 taka per onion, irrespective of the size or quality of it. If you buy a piece of rope, you would again pay 1 taka, irrespective of its length. The story, as told in my 8th Standard Hindi textbook, has a bunch of hilarious examples of the absurdities caused by this regulation.

A wall has fallen and killed a man. The chain of investigation reveals that someone sold a very large bucket for 1 taka, and the latter used that bucket as a measure for water, and thus ends up building a wall that is highly prone to collapsing.

Another story is that someone needs to be hanged, and the hangman can only prepare a loose noose because for 1 taka he ended up getting a long piece of rope that day. And so on.

Anyway, one of my wife’s criticisms about my cooking is that I sometimes “lack proportion”. Now, it doesn’t extend to everything – for my coffee, for example, I have a gram scale in the kitchen which I use to carefully measure out both the quantity of the powder and the amount of water (next in line is to buy a food thermometer so I can use water of the exact same temperature each time).

However, when cooking certain things, I use rough measures. “Throw in all the carrots in the fridge”, for example. Or “use two carrots”, not bothering about the size of the said carrots. I use “number of eggs” as measure without thinking about the size of the eggs (which varies considerably in the shops around where I live).

And that leads to chaupat raja kind of outcomes. One day, my omelette had too much onion because the onion I decided to cut that day was large. Another day, a vegetable stew I’d made turned out too sweet because there were three carrots left in the fridge and I put in all of them, though normally I would’ve only put two.

My habit of throwing in everything without measuring means that my wife has banned me from cooking several dishes for her.

In any case, what I’m trying to illustrate is that using measures in the kitchen based on numbers of something can lead to massively uncertain outcomes, and is an example of “chaupat raja economics”. What we need is better precision (even using something like “1 cup of diced carrots” is inaccurate because the amount of diced carrots a cup can hold can change based on the size of each dice. never mind “cup” is in any case an inexact measure).

Now that I’ve recognised that my style of cooking is like chaupat raja, I’ve decided I need to cooking. There is no reason that coffee is the only thing for which I should pay attention to bring in precision.

Or maybe it will just take too much effort, and the average chaupat raja outcome in the kitchen isn’t bad (the ultimate outcome for the chaupat raja was banned. The story goes that someone needs to be hanged, but it turns out that the noose is too loose (for 1 taka, the hangman got a long piece of rope that day), so the king decides to find someone whose neck fits the  noose. After much searching, someone suggests that the king’s neck is the right size for the noose and he hangs himself.

 

Shankersinh Vaghela

Ever since I returned to India 2 years back, my roasted peanuts of choice have been the one by Haldiram. I used to even buy them to grind them to make peanut butter until I discovered MyFitness Peanut Butter almost exactly a year back.

Recently, though, I hadn’t been able to procure Haldiram’s peanuts. And on a random trip to a supermarket, I found a brand called “Jabsons”. I bought it on a whim, and was super impressed.

The nuts themselves are larger than Haldiram’s, and are crispier. And I notice that the brand markets that it’s from Gujarat, where a lot of peanuts are grown. So far, so good.

And then on twitter, people recommended that I try their flavoured peanuts as well. For the longest time I haven’t been a fan of flavoured peanuts, maybe because I’ve had a few bad ones. I mean, I like the local shop ones, the yellow split masala ones called “Congress” and the red roasted ones called “Communist“.

In any case, inspired by the responses to my tweet, I decided to pick some variants of the Jabsons peanuts on the next visit to the supermarket. I started “safely”, with Black Pepper.

And that was insanely brilliant. Very very awesome. Among the best flavoured roasted peanuts I’ve ever eaten. I even crafted a tweet in my head to appreciate it, but couldn’t post it then because I was on a mini twitter break. I’m writing it here.

Jabsons black pepper peanuts kicks the ass of both Congress and Communist. Given that it comes from Gujarat, I hereby christen it “BJP”. 

And my quest for other flavours of Jabsons peanuts continued. I soon picked up a “spicy masala” flavour. It was a bit spicy for my liking, but I found that it goes brilliantly with curd rice. And then I acquired a taste for it.

Thinking about it, the Jabsons spicy peanuts are somewhat like Congress, but not quite Congress. And they come from Gujarat. Sort of Congress from Gujarat, but not quite Congress. Who does that remind you of?

Well, Shankersinh Vaghela, of course.

So I hereby christen the Jabsons Spicy Peanuts Shankersinh Vaghela. Goes very very well with curd rice.

Concepts from The Obesity Code

Based on the recommendation of a friend who had once described his waistline as “changing more often than Britney Spears’s (?) bra size”, I read Jasun Fung’s The Obesity Code over the last couple of days. The book is stellar.

Here are my highlights from the book.

Anyway, fitness and nutrition is something I’ve been struggling with for a very long time in life now. I used to believe that I have my health numbers (primarily triglycerides) under control because of regular lifting of heavy weights, but a recent blood test called that assumption to question. Having got what I now think is bad advice about what to eat and what not to eat, getting better advice on food is something I’ve been fairly receptive to. And the book does a great job of it.

The basic idea is – your body weight is controlled by hormones. How much you eat and how much you exercise doesn’t really matter. Calorie counting just doesn’t work. Your body has a “natural weight”, and if you are above that the body will try to adjust it lower, and vice versa. And this “natural weight” is guided by the hormones, especially insulin. The higher the level of insulin in your blood, the more your “natural weight” will be.

So the idea is to keep the level of insulin in your blood low. The author builds up a stellar case with some rigorous presentation of research. There is NO RELATIONSHIP between the fat that you eat and risk of heart attacks. A high carb low fat diet will make you fat.

And what I liked about the book is the structuring – the first 220 pages is all about presenting the research on various topics, and not really “giving away” what you should or should not eat. And then in the last 20 pages, he puts it all together, with a broad plan on what is good to eat and what is not.

In any case, I’m not going to reproduce the book here. You can go read it (it’s very very well written), or just read my highlights. The reason I started writing this post is to document my learnings from the book. I think I’d already internalised a lot of it, but some of it is new. This is how I plan to change my diet going forward:

  • Sometimes in recent times I’ve noticed this “heady feeling” upon eating certain foods. I used to think it’s due to eating too much sweet. Now, after reading, I think it’s the feeling of an insulin spike in my head. I’m not going to have any fruit juices. Fruits need to be eaten whole
  • I’ve largely eschewed added sugars for a while now (sometimes on and off). This will continue.
  • Artificial sweeteners also cause a spike in insulin. I didn’t know this. So no more coke zero. No more Muscle Blaze Whey Energy powder as well (I now need to find a whey powder that doesn’t contain any sweet or any sweetener). No energy bars. No “no added sugar” biscuits.
  • This is maybe the most important concept in the book – NO SNACKING. Eat exactly two or three times a day (I used to eat two a day, but nowadays I go to the gym in the mornings, so breakfast is necessary). Eat as much as you want at each meal, but don’t eat in between meals. The body needs lots of periods of time when insulin levels go low – so it doesn’t adjust to a higher natural level of insulin, which means a higher natural weight.
  • Dairy products have a high “insulin index” (produce lots of insulin once eaten), but also have high satiety – they keep you full for a very long time after eating. After my last cholesterol test, after a fight with the wife, I largely gave up on cheeses. I’m reversing that now. I love cheese, and it’s good for me. Calorie counting just doesn’t work (the book does a great job of explaining this).
  • Not doing keto. It’s unsustainable. And I love my fruits too much. Oh, and I need to eat my fruits along with my meals. Not as “snacks”
  • Processed carbohydrates are not good. So no more bread for me. I need to figure out if fried eggs + milk will be enough for breakfast. Or find a decent substitute.
  • I also need to figure out how good or bad basmati rice is. Definitely makes me feel better than sona masuri (which we used to eat before). Need to figure out if this feeling is justified.
  • Peanuts are good. Peanut butter is good. Other nuts are good as well. But need to eat them for breakfast. Not as a snack.

The hardest part for me, with this new regimen I plan to start, is “no snack”. I’d gotten so used to snacking that I think I eat far less than necessary during my main meals. And that results in a vicious cycle. I’ve attempted to start breaking out of that by supplementing my chapati-paneer curry with some curd rice tonight.

So far I’ve been feeling great. Let’s see how this goes.

Sugar and social media

For the last one (or is it two?) weeks, I’ve been off all social media. For the last three weeks or so, until a friend baked a wonderful brownie on Wednesday, I was off sugars as well. And I find that my mind reacts similarly to sugar and to social media.

Essentially, the more frequently I’ve been consuming them, the more receptive my mind is to them. I’ve written this in the context of twitter recently – having been largely off Twitter for the last one month or so, I started enjoying my weekly logins less and less with time. Without regular use of the platform, there was no sense of belonging. When you were missing most of the things on the platform anyway, there was no fear of missing out.

So when I logged in to twitter two weekends back, I’d logged out within ten minutes. I haven’t logged in since (though this has since been coopted into a wider social media blackout).

It is similar with sugar. I’d written something similar to this eleven years back, though not to the same effect. Back then again (in the middle of what has been my greatest ever weight loss episode) I ran a consistent calorie deficit for two months, being strictly off sugars and fatty foods. After two months, when I tasted some sweets, I found myself facing a sugar high, and then being unable to have more sugars.

While I got back to sugars soon after that (massive weight loss having been achieved), I’ve periodically gone on and off them. I’m currently in an “off” period, though I’ve periodically “cheated”. And each time I’ve cheated I’ve felt the same as I did when I logged in to twitter – wondered what the big deal with sugar is and why I bother eating it at all.

Last Sunday it was my father-in-law’s birthday, and I broke my “no sugar” rule to eat a piece of his birthday cake. I couldn’t go beyond one piece, though. It was a mixture of disgust with myself and “what’s the big deal with this?” that I felt. It was a similar story on Tuesday, when I similarly couldn’t go beyond one piece of my daughter’s birthday cake (to be fair, it was excessively sweet).

On Wednesday, though, that changed. My friend’s brownie was delicious, and I ended up bingeing on it. And having consumed that much sugar, I continued thulping sugars for the next two days. It took some enormous willpower yesterday morning to get myself off sugars once again.

With social media that is similar. Whenever I go off it, as long as my visits back are short, I fail to get excited by it. However, every time I go beyond a threshold (maybe two hours of twitter in a stretch?) I’m addicted once again.

This may not sound like two many data points, but the moral of this story that I would like to draw is that social media is like sugar. Treat your social media consumption like you treat your consumption of sugar. At least if you’re like me, they affect your mind in the same way.

Bad Apples

Nowadays, I keep apples in the fridge. Apart from remaining fresh longer, I like eating cold apples as well.

It wasn’t always this way. And I would frequently encounter what I call the “bad apples” problem.

You have a bunch of apples at home. They get a little overripe. You don’t want to eat them. You go to the market and see fresh apples there, but you know that you have apples at home. Because you have apples at home, you don’t want to buy new ones. But you don’t want to eat the apples at home, because they are too ripe.

And so they just sit there, getting progressively worse by a wee bit every day. Seeing them everyday makes you feel bad about having not finished them, but also reminds you to not buy new apples. And so you go days together without eating any apples, until one day you gather the courage to throw them in the bin and buy new apples.

I’ve become conscious of this problem for a lot of foodstuff. Apples, as I told you, I now keep in the fridge, so they last longer. The problem doesn’t fully go since you can have months-old wrinkly apples sitting in your fridge that you don’t want to eat, and which prevent you from buying new ones in the market. However, it is far better than seeing apples rot on the shelf.

Bananas and oranges offer the benefit that as soon as they are overripe, they make for excellent smoothies and juices respectively. I’ve become particular about finishing them off that way. Mangoes can be juiced/milkshaked as well. And I’ve developed processes around a lot of foodstuff now so that this “bad apples” problem doesn’t happen.

However, there is no preventing this problem from occurring elsewhere. Books is a prominent example. From this excellent interview of venture capitalist Marc Andreessen that I’m reading:

The problem of having to finish every book is you’re not only spending time on books you shouldn’t be but it also causes you to stall out on reading in general. If I can’t start the next book until I finish this one, but I don’t want to read this one, I might as well go watch TV. Before you know it, you’ve stopped reading for a month and you’re asking “what have I done?!”

It happens with work. There might be a half-written blogpost that you’re loathe to finish, but which prevent you from starting a new blogpost (I’ve gotten pretty ruthless at deleting drafts. I prefer to write posts “at one shot”, so this isn’t that much of a pain).

The good thing, though, is that once you start recognising the bad apples problem in some fields (such as apples), you start seeing them elsewhere as well. And you will develop policies on dealing with them.

Now I’m cursing myself for setting myself an annual target of “number of books to read” (on Goodreads). It’s leading to this:

the sunk cost fallacy means that I try harder to finish so that I can add to my annual count. Sometimes I literally flip through the pages of the book looking for interesting things, in an attempt to finish it one way or the other

Bad apples aren’t that easy to get rid of!

 

Local time zones and function food

Last year after we got back to Bangalore from London, we started inviting people home for meals. It gave us an opportunity to socialise and rebuilt our network here. However, soon we stopped doing this – we had what I call a “time zone problem”.

In the UK, people eat early, and kids go to bed early. We liked both these aspects of the British culture and (to the extent possible) adopted them wholeheartedly. Now, back in India, we continue to follow these practices, but realise that most people around us don’t follow it. And this results in “time zone issues”.

This inevitably results in crane-fox situations when we have to go to someone’s place to eat or vice versa. We have gotten foxed several times, turning up for dinner at 630 or 7, and staying hungry till 9. We’ve tried craning several times, calling people at home for dinner at 630 or 7, and having them turn up much later in the evening.

Meeting outside in neutral places has some mitigating factors. Like 8pm drinks with friends means I finish my dinner and then go for drinks, thus maintaining my schedule. When I want to avoid drinking, the easiest thing to do is to drive to the venue (I’m paranoid about driving without full control).

The worst are religious functions. I’m pretty sure I’ve cribbed about them several time here on this blog. With very few exceptions, they invariably serve lunch or dinner late. Also that a “sacred event” is going on is reason enough for most other guests to not be bothered about the disruptions in eating schedules.

And to deal with that (apart from the fact that a large number of functions after we returned to India served pretty unspectacular food), we took inspiration from a close relative who has this policy of never eating at functions (the one time he broke this policy, two years ago, also coincided with what is easily the worst wedding food I’ve ever eaten, so it’s unlikely he’s breaking his policy again). Unless we have good reason to believe that the food at a function is going to be good (most reliable indicator being the caterer), we’ve taken to this relative’s policy.

Timing of most events in Bangalore means that we can eat our food at our normal times (lunch at noon, dinner at 6:30) and then comfortably get to the function well in time. Sometimes the host might get offended when we don’t eat, so a lighter than usual meal at home ensures that there is room for at least a dessert and a tiny course of meal.

As for the original crane-fox situation (calling people home or visiting for meals), we’ve started making adjustments. A few months after we returned, the daughter got back to her usual schedule of going to bed at 7 (unlike most children her age, she doesn’t nap in the afternoon). So dinner invites (in either direction) are out of the question. Lunch invites we manage by adjusting our breakfast times and quantities.

What’s the use of living in India if you cut yourself off from all socialising?